Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Review: “Cat’s Paw”/”The Missile” (spoilers)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Review: “Cat’s Paw”/”The Missile” (spoilers)

“Cat’s Paw”: No tape this time; we open with Barney visiting his brother Larry (Marc Hannibal, who does resemble Greg Morris somewhat), a crusading reporter trying to expose Corley (Hari Rhodes), head of a new black mob that’s taken over organized crime in the ghetto of a California city (perhaps LA), and the crooked precinct captain who abets him, Abbott (Kelly Thorsden).  Larry observes that for an engineer, Barney sure travels a lot, and Barney has to go on lying to his brother with a straight face.  Maybe not the best way to end the visit, because just afterward, Corley’s triggerman (Chuck Wood), who has the unlikely name of Pod Hamp, drives by and firebombs Larry’s office.  Barney holds Larry in his arms as he dies.  That’s right, folks… this time, it’s personal!

Naturally, the others on the team (including Willy, but not Doug) all volunteer to help Barney bring Corley down.  And although the setup is different (and I guess at this point they still felt it necessary to justify why the IMF would go after organized crime on such a local scale), the rest plays out as a fairly standard caper, with an apartment briefing and everything.  Barney’s “way in” to Corley’s organization is his secretary Millie (Abbey Lincoln).  As she leaves Corley’s office, Barney signals an uncredited helper to snatch her purse, then Barney cuts his own forehead and stages a fake fight with the “mugger.”  This way, he gets Millie to take him inside for treatment and begins to work on her, keeping her occupied while Willy sneaks in the side window and plants a knockout gas cartridge for later, as well as breaking into the safe to put in an extra 10 grand.

Why?  Well, the rest of the team is working on Corley’s accountant Goslin (recurring M:I player William Wintersole),  a holdover from the old white mob who doesn’t fully have Corley’s trust.  Goslin’s been into spiritualism since he lost his wife, and Paris and Dana stage a couple of seances in which the wife’s spirit possesses Dana and warns Goslin that he’s in danger.  Barney’s good deed with Millie earns him an accounting job as Goslin’s assistant — as well as Millie’s romantic interest, and Hamp’s jealousy.  When Barney “discovers” that they have $10,000 more than Goslin reported (i.e. the money Willy planted), it makes Corley suspect Goslin of embezzlement.  Possessed Dana advises Goslin to steal compromising information on Corley so he’ll have leverage.  The knockout gas was to put Hamp to sleep so Goslin could commit the theft undisturbed.

Meanwhile, Jim plays a mob guy trying to bribe corrupt Captain Abbott to ditch Corley and shift his protection to the organization Jim represents, but Abbott refuses.  (Where are they getting all the money they’re flashing around here, if this isn’t a government-sanctioned mission?  Not to mention, how do they manage to fake the criminal record for Barney’s alias?)  When Goslin steals the info, he’s intercepted by Jim and Willy, and Jim tries to persuade him to get Corley, Hamp, and Abbott busted for Larry’s murder, supposedly so his mob can move in.  But Goslin’s insistent that he only knows about money matters and is ignorant of any murder evidence.  There’s a nice moment where Jim is demanding that he can’t be ignorant of the murder and you can see the act slip and Jim’s real pain and frustration on Barney’s behalf show through.  Then he toughens again and breaks Goslin with a reminder that he’s not the kind of man who can survive a long prison sentence.

Jim uses Goslin’s information to blackmail Abbott into siding with him and turning on Corley, and they convince Hamp to hit Corley — and Barney!  Hamp’s eager to kill his rival for Millie, but he’s initially unwilling to kill Corley since they go way back — but the offer to give him a piece of the action trumps his loyalty.  Abbott has Millie send Barney and Corley to the office, and Hamp meets them there with a shotgun.  But Millie shows up and claims unconvincingly that Abbott said to let Barney go.  Hamp sees through it and is about to kill all three of them when Willy shoots him with a tranquilizer dart — and Barney clocks the already-unconscious man to make it look like he saved the others.  He urges Corley to flee the country, but Corley’s intercepted outside by Jim and Willy as cops, who says the DA wants him for questioning.  When he refuses, they say they could just drop him off at Abbott’s precinct.  The only way he sees to save his life is to sing.

When Millie finds out that Barney used her to get to Corley, she’s outraged.  But he tells her his real name and why he did it, and says he would’ve done the same to “the Joan of Arc” (?) if it would’ve evened the score.  But the sad truth is, it doesn’t even the score.  He’s used and betrayed Millie and his brother’s still gone.  Still, the DA has his case, and Larry’s job is done.

Although this is a fairly routine caper for the most part, the personal stake for Barney does come into play enough times to make it more interesting than usual, and the story allows Greg Morris several opportunities to shine as an actor.  There are also some excellent touches in the direction and camera composition, particularly in the seance scenes, and that’s good to see in a season whose production values have been somewhat lax.  And if nothing else, I have to hand it to a 1960s-’70s show for being willing to do multiple episodes in which the black cast member is the most central player.  That was pretty progressive.  And it’s a much better use of Greg Morris’s talents than just having him spend most of an episode climbing through tunnels and assembling gadgets.

“The Missile”: Atypically for this season, we open with Jim getting the briefing, in a closed shop with a “Gone Fishing” sign on the door.  Enemy agent James Reed (David Sheiner from last season’s 2-parter “The Controllers”) plans to steal the plans for a missile guidance system from a US military base, with help from his contact, a sexy secretary who’s been having an affair with her boss on the base, Willard, in order to set him up for blackmail.  The mission is to let him steal a fake guidance system instead.  Even though this is a intelligence mission against foreign agents, the tape stays true to the pattern for stateside missions this season, in that the “Secretary will disavow” line is excluded.

Which makes sense, given how openly the team is cooperating with the personnel of the military base.  We see the team, along with base commander Wardman (John Pickard), arrest the secretary and take her boss into protective custody; Dana and Jim will assume their respective roles, since Reed has never met them.  Wardman takes Jim into a missile lab whose computers sound exactly like the bridge of the starship Enterprise, and Jim substitutes the fake guidance system and specs while filling in Wardman (and the audience) on the rest of the plan.  But once the enemy agents get what they want from Jim, Wardman asks, won’t they try to kill him to keep him silent?  Casually, matter-of-factly, Jim replies, “Well, they certainly will if they can.”  Cut to titles, and it’s a Willy episode.

Jim and Dana settle into their roles, but Dana has car trouble and stops at a garage on the way to “her” apartment.  While the main mechanic diagnoses her problem and installs a temporary fix, a creepy mechanic (John Beck) notices her and watches her intently, seeming to recognize her as “Marlene.”  The first time I saw this episode, that got me wondering if he was someone she’d run into on an earlier caper when she used that role.  You’d think they’d occasionally run the risk of that happening.  Anyway, he follows her home, and even though she’s an experienced, security-conscious spy, she leaves her car window open after she goes inside, so he can check her name and address from her registration.

Indoors, Dana finds Reed there and they make plans.  Reed suspects her affair with “Willard” is so passionate that he won’t be worried about hurting his wife, but Dana assures him Jim would do anything to protect his kids.  When she takes Reed to meet Jim the next day,  Willard’s real son Bobby is there to play along with Jim in order to protect his family.  Reed gets to see how devoted Jim-as-Willard is to his son — though anyone who’s seen Peter Graves in Airplane! will have trouble watching this scene without being put in mind of some very unintended subtext.  So Reed and Dana make plans to lure Jim to her apartment that night to make a blackmail film (since Reed has moved in next door and he and his assistant cut through the wall to put in a one-way mirror).

But first Dana has to stop by the garage again, and the creepy mechanic flirts with her a bit, making her uneasy.  Back home, she and Jim put on a show for Reed’s camera (oh, the sacrifices Jim makes, having to make out with his pretty young colleague), though of course they’re on ’70s TV so it’s strictly first base, and Jim soon leaves.  But Reed has the compromising photos and audio, and he sends his assistant Farrell (Gerald Hiken) to develop the film.  Barney and Willy follow him to his photo shop.  But oh no, creepy mechanic is watching Dana through her window!

While Reed blackmails Jim and Jim puts up enough resistance to be convincing, Barney and Willy check out the photo shop.  But Farrell has rigged it to go up in flames when Jim arrives later to pick up the incriminating negatives, and Barney inadvertently triggers the firetrap, the heavy door sealing him inside as the room catches flame.  Willy uses his mighty strength to force the door open, gets Barney out, and puts out the flames.  They call Jim to tip him off to how Reed plans to kill him and say they’ll rig an escape for him.  But Jim finds it a sloppy execution method, one that would raise questions, so he suspects it’s just Reed’s backup plan.  He calls Dana (we see it from her end of the conversation), and even though she gives him no more than one second at a time to speak between her lines, he somehow manages to convey his doubts to her.  So she talks Reed into telling her his primary plan — sabotage his brakes and steering on a curvy mountain road.  She calls Jim to warn him, but as fictional characters tend to do in these situations, she buries the lead long enough to be interrupted by the creepy mechanic chloroforming her just before she gives the vital information.

Paris comes in just a minute later to find signs of a struggle, as well as a conveniently torn-off pocket with a “Duke’s Garage” emblem on it.  He passed Reed and Farrell on the way up, so he knows they didn’t take her.  Paris calls Barney for help — and some obliging set dresser has intentionally or inadvertently created an in-joke to amuse Trekkies, since the Saurian brandy bottle prop from Star Trek is on the table right next to Leonard Nimoy.

But Jim still has to play things out with Reed and let the spy think he’s been killed, even at the risk of actually dying.  He lets Reed photograph the fake guidance system and specs, while Farrell sabotages his car.  (I think this is the same car I noticed in “Flip Side,” since there doesn’t seem to be an engine under the hood, just a cover over the brake and steering lines.)  Reed and Farrell then escort him to the photo lab in their car.  You’d think Jim could guess at this point that their optimal plan would be to sabotage his car, but somehow he’s still in the dark about what to expect.

Dana awakens in the creepy mechanic’s apartment, and he’s conveniently decorated it with newspaper clippings whose headlines identify him as escaped serial killer John Hecker.  Marlene isn’t some prior role Dana played; apparently she was his fiancee whom he murdered out of jealousy, and ever since then he’s been seeing other women as her and re-enacting history.  Dana’s trained in deception, so she plays along with the Marlene role to reassure him, trying to convince him to let her call a friend, but he refuses.  She distracts him from his lusty intentions with her domestic wiles, offering to cook for him so she can convince him to go out for ingredients, but he’s got everything she needs on hand.  Darn it!  Meanwhile, Paris and Barney find ether in Hecker’s belongings at the garage, which leads them to a pharmacy where they’re helped by the not-very-helpful elderly clerk (Percy Helton).  He finally finds the address he sent the prescription to.  Just then, Dana lures Hecker to the stove and pours water into the hot skillet while he leans over it, blinding him with the steam and making her break.  He chases her downstairs, but Paris and Barney arrive and give him what for while Dana rushes back up to his apartment to call Jim’s car phone.

But it’s too late, since the brakes and steering are already out.  Jim struggles for control (somehow it doesn’t occur to him to try the parking brake) and finally bails out into some bushes (which shouldn’t be so harmless at his supposed speed) just before the car crashes and burns.  Reed and Farrell assume he’s dead and drive away, convinced their plan has succeeded.  (Bad guys never make sure there’s a body.  It must be the same impulse that makes them leave the room when the superhero is caught in the deathtrap.)

Okay, so it’s another episode where they vary the format by having a wild card intervene and disrupt the plan.  The stalker/serial killer angle is somewhat out of left field; it might’ve felt a bit less random if it actually had been someone Dana had used on a former mission, out to get back at her for her betrayal.  That could’ve been an interesting angle, come to think of it.  But although it didn’t quite work on that end, it did help add some suspense to the spy-mission side of the story.  So an imperfect episode, but not a bad one.

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  1. Ed
    January 15, 2015 at 2:37 am

    The car they rigged to crash was a VW Karmann Ghia and, as most VWs of the day, The Karmann Ghia had its engine in the rear of the car using the front as its hood. 🙂

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